Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The whole world is on fire

Not really, but that's how it feels right now in Colorado.  (The title of this post is also a line from one of my all-time favorite movies, by the way, The Last of the Mohicans.)

The High Park fire has been burning in the northern part of the state for a couple of weeks, and has grown to be the second largest wildfire in Colorado history (the first, of course, being the Hayman fire in 2002).  I actually know someone, a fellow boarder at an old barn whom I've kept in touch with, who goes to school in Fort Collins and had to have her horse evacuated until the danger passed.

The Waldo Canyon fire started out as a threat only to Manitou Springs and the Garden of the Gods.  It only started on Saturday around noon, but because it started in a more populated area, the danger with this one is especially high, despite the relatively small number of acres burned so far.  (As a comparison, High Park was over 80,000 acres, and this morning the Waldo Canyon fire was only around 5,000 acres.)  About 5,000 people were evacuated over the weekend, but today the fire "exploded" (the word the headlines used) and 30,000 people in northwest Colorado Springs were evacuated, including the Air Force Academy at about 7:30 this evening.  Also this evening, the fire started reaching homes -- until today, miraculously, no homes had been burnt.

You can see pictures of this fire here: Waldo Canyon Fire near Garden of the Gods and Waldo Canyon fire erupts with more evacuations.  There are some amazing and sickening photos of homes being engulfed in flames, the fires on the hill with the city spread out underneath, and the Doomsday orange-and-black cloud currently overhanging the city.

There is also a fire now in Boulder, the Flagstaff fire, and parts of Boulder are on evac and pre-evac.  And of course, these are just three of many wildfires currently burning around the state.  It's bad, and as some of the more major cities are starting to be hit, it's rather alarming.  Denver is pretty much sitting in the center, surrounded on three sides by fire!  Not that I think the fire will get here, but never say never, right?

The dry, hot conditions have definitely been contributing to the fire danger.  Today was our fifth day in a row of 100+ degree heat, which tied us with a record -- five consecutive days of triple-digit heat has only happened twice before, once in 1989 and once in 2005, according to this article on Denver's heat wave records.  Also, our high for yesterday was 105 degrees, an all-time high temperature which has only been reached twice before in Colorado history: in 1878, and again in 2005.

I saw a photo today on Facebook that showed a picture of Mordor and Mount Doom with a sign announcing "Welcome to Colorful Colorado" photoshopped in the foreground.  I think that pretty much sums up the current conditions in our state!

I haven't been out to see the horses during our run of triple-digit temps, but I'm hoping to go tomorrow evening.  Tomorrow is supposed to be a little cooler (read: high 90s, which at this point is a little cooler!).


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Rondo's first ride

On Thursday my trainer rode Rondo for the very first time.

We've been very slow in approaching this point, primarily because Rondo can be unpredictable at times (I think he gets mad about being made to do stuff he doesn't want to -- he still sees himself as a big pasture pet).  There was also an incident a year or so ago where my brother-in-law's nanny tried to jump on Rondo's back, bareback and bridleless, in the pasture.  I don't know what he was thinking that would accomplish with an untrained horse, but in any case, the predictable happened, and Rondo threw him off and ran away.  So my trainer and I have been extra careful to go slow with him in case he has any bad memories of that incident.

My trainer sat on him bareback briefly last week, and decided to ride the first time bareback as well -- he can be unpredictable sometimes, especially when learning something new, so she decided that being able to bail quickly if needed was better than having the added security of a saddle. Rondo did wonderfully, though -- he had two minor spooks (one of which you can see on this first video), and otherwise responded well (considering it was his first time carrying a rider) to the reins, voice commands, and the barest hint of leg when needed.

They also did a little bit of trotting -- you can see that he is trotting a bit awkwardly, trying to figure out how to move with a rider's weight on his back, but he handles it well.

I am very proud of my boy.  I think he's going to be a wonderful horse to ride!


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Panama gets excited, and I get sore...

Yesterday was incredibly hot in Denver, so rather than going after work the way I'd planned (early evening is often the hottest part of the day in Denver), I went after dark and rode Panama indoors.  It wasn't a bad ride, but I was definitely suffering the results of being out of the saddle for over a month while my broken finger healed: Panama got very excited about being ridden (obviously our quiet ride on Thursday was only because he was tired from his bag desensitization) and extremely forward, and my legs got very tired (my leg strength having suffered in the interim).

Like I said, it wasn't a bad ride, but it wasn't great, either.  I trotted Panama for a long time before we cantered, to get him to focus on me a little more, and he still cantered more quickly than I cared for.  I was very glad we were riding inside, where the small arena tends to limit his speed somewhat -- he probably would have blasted off if we'd ridden earlier in the outdoor arena, like I'd originally planned!

I did manage to get some halfway-decent trotting and cantering in each direction, but kept the ride short, mostly because my legs were so tired that they were shaking by the time I got what I wanted out of him.  I will have to ride again soon (hopefully tomorrow evening) and start making a habit out of riding more often again, to bring him back to where I want him.

On the bright side, though, I didn't think about my broken finger once -- there was no sensitivity when I closed my fingers on the reins or asked for a whoa, like there was when I tried riding a few weeks ago.  I am also typing on the finger now -- that is a little tender at times, but not really sore.  I go back to the doctor for follow-up x-rays next week, so cross your fingers that the bone is continuing to knit!

Once we finished riding, I untacked Panama and produced a lunge whip.  My trainer wanted me to see if it's just the bag he's scared of, or if the whip rubbing on the backs of his legs, belly, back, etc. produces the same results.  He was definitely twitchy about the whip -- he is an extremely ticklish horse, though, so I think it was more discomfort than fear, because he never moved his feet.  It could also be that he trusts me more, since I'm Mom, or that I'm nicer about it because I'm Mom, or that my trainer's desensitizing efforts last week stuck with him.  I suggested that she also try just the whip next time, if only to satisfy my curiosity.

I'd planned to go out to the barn this evening, too, but that didn't work out -- between the heat, being tired from work, and some dangerously low blood sugar, I didn't feel like going after work.  So it's an evening at home to relax tonight, and I'll go tomorrow after work instead!

Me hugging my horse's neck from horseback


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Rondo's big news and Panama's quiet ride

I promised to tell about the rest of our news...

After his second demonstration of his disinterest in plastic bags this past Thursday, my trainer decided to do some more work lying over his back and having me lead him.  He is doing really great with this, and has even become accustomed to being touched and petted while she is lying over him, so she decided to try sitting on his back bareback very briefly.

It took a few tries -- initially when she threw her leg over, he tried sidestepping away from the mounting block, and when that worked, he kept doing it, every time.  He got into some trouble for that, and then didn't want to stand next to the mounting block (obviously associating it with getting into trouble).  We convinced him to stand there again, and then she was able to go back to work without him stepping away.

She took her time at it, mainly because Rondo tends to get mad or resentful sometimes when he is learning something new.  So she started with just throwing her leg over, and then putting more and more weight on him, until she was finally able to just scoot all the way on.  His head went up in surprise, probably at the way it felt, but he handled it just fine.  She sat on him fully a couple of times, albeit very briefly each time.  I'm so pleased with his progress lately!

Since I couldn't stay for Panama's session, I decided to head back to the barn that evening after work and ride Panama.  My broken finger has been healing pretty well -- it's only a little sore now, and in fact I'm typing with it right now -- and since I have regained most of my range of motion in that finger, I decided it was time to get back in the saddle.  For a real ride, that is, as opposed to the brief 5-minute ride a couple of weeks ago, when I discovered my finger was still too sore to close over the reins and pull effectively.  Not having any breaks is generally a bad idea when riding Panama!

When I got there, though, I found Panama to be surprisingly sluggish.  He stood in the cross ties with his head lower than I've ever seen it, and was remarkably quiet when I rode him, despite the fact that I rode him outside when I haven't ridden him (a real ride, at least) for over a month.  I made a mental note to ask my trainer how the plastic bag desensitization went, but before I could send her a text, she called as I was leaving -- to tell me about how exhausted he was going to be.  In fact, she said, "If you want a nice quiet ride, tomorrow is the day to get it," and I cracked up and told her I'd actually just gotten that nice quiet ride!

She wanted me to do a little work with him the next day (Friday) to see if he was retaining any of what he'd learned, but of course I didn't have a chance.  I'm hoping I can get out there today, do a little bag work, and then (providing he doesn't lose his marbles) perhaps get a ride in, too!


Saturday, June 16, 2012

My horses are polar opposites

I might have mentioned before how different my horses are.  Everything from their temperament (Panama is hyper and reactive, Rondo calm), to their attitude toward work (Panama wants to please, Rondo gets angry or resentful), to their favorite directions in the arena (Panama likes to go left, Rondo prefers it to the right).

The last couple of training sessions have served to emphasize their differences yet again.  I have my trainer working with both horses each Thursday right now, because I am working so much over the summer that I'm anticipating Panama will need the work as much as his brother-in-training.  Last week on Thursday, my trainer brought a plastic grocery sack to work with Rondo -- we've never done any plastic bag desensitization with him.

The results were comical, not because of his reaction, but because of his lack of reaction.  Rondo simply DID NOT CARE.  He stood still, resting a foot, and never so much as took a step away from the bag.  In fact, it hardly even seemed important enough to him to make him pay attention to the bag.  And remember, we've never done this with him before.

Can you imagine, if we can get him past his resentfulness at having to work, what an amazingly bombproof horse he will be under saddle?

My trainer tried for a good five minutes to get a reaction out of him.  The bag was tied to the end of a lunge whip, which she shook next to him, over him, under him, ran all over his body, between his legs... even put the bag on his head and between his ears, and he still did not care.  Finally she gave up and we worked on him with other things, such as fly spray (which made him rear last summer, though not anymore, even if it is still scary).

Then she pulled out Panama, my 7-year-old trained (supposedly) horse.  This is the horse that has taught me to canter, taught me to jump at the same time as he was learning himself, and has been on many miles of trails.

And he completely and totally melted down over that plastic bag.

Panama spent an hour running circles around my trainer, bucking, kicking at the bag, and tucking his butt so far under him that he looked like he was trying to sit down (or curl up like a roly poly).  Even by the end of the hour, he was tolerating the bag, but only barely -- he was rigidly waiting for it to go away.  Obviously he knew we wanted him not to react, and was trying to give us what we wanted, but was not actually relaxing.

Panama obviously needed more work, and we wondered if Rondo's lack of reaction was just a fluke, so we repeated all the bag work this past Thursday.  Rondo's reaction was definitely not a fluke -- once again, he didn't care one bit.  My trainer even covered his eyes with the bag and he didn't care.  It was incredible.

And then there was Panama.  I had to go to work, but she stayed and worked with him until he finally relaxed (even if it was out of sheer exhaustion from running away from the bag).  It took an hour and 45 minutes to break through that barrier!  The crazy thing is that he was pretty much fine when the bag was on his left side, but he could not handle it on his right side at all.  It would be almost enough to make me question his vision on that side, but when we're riding, it's actually often stuff on the other side of him that causes him to shy.

Anyway, I have more news from Thursday, so stay tuned... but that is best left for a different post!


Friday, June 1, 2012

Of trucks and trailers

A fellow boarder at the barn and a friend of mine just bought a truck, with the intention of getting a horse trailer and being able to haul her own horse (and maybe, someday, horses).  As one of the truck-and-trailer-less horse owners, I am quite jealous.

Michael and I have often talked about getting either a truck or an SUV -- he wants it for driving in the snow, but I want to make sure that anything we get is strong enough to pull a two-horse trailer, too.  I like the idea of an SUV better, personally -- a former fellow border had a Dodge Durango that did a great job of pulling her two-horse trailer, and I think an SUV like that would be more useful since it would also enable us to carry passengers and haul furniture out of the weather.  Plus, I have to say that I would feel more comfortable driving an SUV -- I've always had smaller cars, so the thought of driving a full size truck makes me a little nervous.  (And, before you point out that I'm going to have to get used to driving something big if I'm going to haul a horse trailer, I have every intention of making Michael drive!)

Of course, if I don't plan on driving it much, maybe a truck is the way to go.  Michael doesn't seem to mind the thought of driving it, and it would probably be easier to get a truck than to find an SUV with enough hauling power to safely pull a horse trailer.  We don't really have passengers very often, and the lack of secure storage space could be solved with a tool box -- pretty much everyone I know with pickups have tool boxes for trucks.  I just wouldn't want to put our dogs in the bed of the truck -- I hate it when I see people do that, because it's just not safe -- so the SUV has some obvious advantages there.

What do you think?  Can an SUV pull a horse trailer safely, or are we better off with a truck?